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I read two columns today that had similar themes regarding SMBs’ general need to adopt better local marketing strategies. Carrie Hill’s Search Engine Watch column argues the relatively weak ROI transparency of print advertising (compared with online), while Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land column looked at SMBs’ need to get on their online advertising game.

The arguments are much more complex of course and both make some strong points. They’re both also venerable sources of search marketing intelligence (although I might be biased as an SEW columnist myself). I won’t reconstruct them here but I recommend reading them.

A common point needing more attention in both arguments is SMBs’ inability to do these things in many cases. Most pizza shops and locksmiths don’t think in these terms and don’t have time to educate themselves on search marketing (not to mention practicing it). Sometimes they also perceive ROI in arguably irrational ways; the vanity factor involved in seeing your print ad trumps the efficiencies of online (though economic environment will likely change this).

These are some of the reasons why the Yellow Pages industry has traditionally been so successful. The high touch sales force is often required to get in front of SMBs, and get them to advertise (effectiveness of delivered solutions aside).

Local advertising, as the old saying goes, isn’t something that’s bought, it’s sold. Even the search marketing provisioned at the SMB level is largely sold by local sales reps from newspapers and Yellow Pages. This involves resold click packages from the likes of WebVisible and Marchex.

So basically, both points are right. The need for SMBs to use more effective tools, argued by these columns, is on target. But the reality that they won’t self provision and manage online campaigns in large part must be recognized (though interest in self-service online marketing among SMBs is on the rise, according to our research).

So where does that leave us? The combination of these factors points once again to the reality that local sales forces from Yellow Pages and newspapers need to better serve as local consultative ad agents for the range of media buys that make the most sense for advertisers. This has to include a lot more trackable online spends than traditionally pushed.

As we explored a great deal at DMS, this is going to require a rethinking and restructuring of sales training and recruiting for local sales forces. Incentive structures are going to have to stop favoring print. And a phasing in of new tech-savvy reps, without a legacy of selling print for years, will also help.

Savvy SMB outliers aside, this is going to be one important factor in getting the larger universe of small businesses to collectively get on their local advertising game.


Related to the sales training we held in Atlanta at the DMS conference, the upcoming ILM:08 conference in Santa Clara will include a local search marketing seminar, led by LocalSEOGuide‘s Andrew Shotland.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your thoughts and the link to my article. I think my HUGE issue with print & internet YP is the lack of discolosure and transparency. If an SEO was telling people what these folks are – we’d have roasted, tarred & feathered them by now.

    I’ve dealt first-hand with IYP salespeople dishing out huge amounts of misinformation to our clients in order to “lure them away” from our services.

    YOu’re completely right that the SMBs simply dont have the time or the know-how to do their own SEM. I think that’s why you’re seeing people talk about it recently…because when times are tough people need to do what they can prove is working….Even with IYP listings for our clients I’ve seen maybe ONE conversion a year…not enough to make me want to invest tons of money.

    Thanks for weighing in on this topic – it’s a good one – hopefully some oversight into IYP and YP sales tactics can come out of it.

    ~Carrie Hill
    Blizzard Internet Marketing, Inc.

  2. Thanks for the comments Carrie. I think you’re right that tough times will force many SMBs into taking control of their local ad spends. This will mean take more time to understand and manage more effective advertising. That could mean online and in some cases print. But the point is, they’ll be more driven and engaged than before to get the most bang for their buck.

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